VA launches Facebook pages for all 152 medical centers

By Mike Miliard
10:42 AM
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In an effort to engage with returning veterans at the local level, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has set up Facebook pages for each of its medical centers nationwide.

“This event marks an important milestone in the overall effort to transform how VA communicates with veterans and provide them the health care and benefits they have earned,” said Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric K. Shinseki. “Veterans and their families told us from the beginning that they want to engage and they want relevant information delivered at the local level. By leveraging Facebook, the Department continues to expand access to VA, and embrace transparency and two-way conversation.”

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What began with a single Veterans Health Administration Facebook page in 2008 has now produced more than 150 Facebook pages, 64 Twitter feeds, a YouTube channel, a Flickr page, and the "VAntage Point" blog, officials point out.

This past June, VA developed a department-wide social media policy that provides guidelines for communicating with veterans online. The strategy is designed to help break down long-perceived barriers between the Department and its stakeholders.

“Veterans of all eras are depending on us to get the right information to the right person at the right time,” said Brandon Friedman, VA’s director of online communications, and a veteran of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. “With more troops returning home, we also have a responsibility to connect with the thousands of service members who have been – and will be – entering our system. They’re using social media, so that’s where we need to be. Facebook helps us do that.”

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VA currently has more than 345,000 combined Facebook "fans." Its main Facebook page has more than 154,000 fans and its medical centers have a combined subscribership of over 69,000. The Department plans to continue expanding its Facebook presence – while also focusing on bringing Twitter to every VA medical center as well.

“We are very pleased to have pioneered social media in VA, and now our VA medical centers across the nation are all engaged,” said Robert Petzel, MD, under secretary for health in the VA. “We are committed to helping veterans understand their benefits and receive the health care their service has earned them.”

While VA clinicians can’t discuss the specific health concerns of individual veterans on Facebook, officials note that staff can monitor VA’s sites each day and engage with returning veterans. For instance, VA’s Crisis Line counselors have successfully intervened on Facebook in cases where veterans have suggested suicidal thoughts or presented with other emotional crises.

[See also: VA and DoD to launch integrated healthcare IT system.]

“Facebook’s mission is to make the world more open and connected and we are excited to see government agencies using our service to better to connect with citizens, provide information, and deliver services,” said Don Faul, Facebook’s vice president of online operations, a former U.S. Marine and a veteran of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. “We want to do all we can to support Veterans, so we’re pleased to see the Department of Veterans Affairs using Facebook connect with Veterans in an authentic and engaging way."